Being high up on a mountain might cause a lot of sun exposure. Learn how to stay sun safe with the essentials in this guide.

UV exposure increases by approximately 10 percent for every 1,000 feet in elevation. That means that to stay properly sun safe, you need to be sure you have the right mountain essentials.

Whether there's hot weather when hiking or you enjoy the winter months in the mountains, protecting your body from the harmful effects of the sun is important.

At the very least you'll prevent a sunburn. However, proper sun safety is also vital for preventing skin cancer, which is caused by unprotected UV exposure.

There are plenty of benefits from spending time outdoors, but being prepared ensures that you get all of the perks without any of the risks.

Since sun exposure increases at higher elevations, you need the right gear. Here's what you should have any time you hit the trail, summer or winter.

UV Blocking Clothing

Whether you're hiking in the summer or skiing in the winter, wearing UV-blocking clothing helps protect your skin. Such clothing blocks UV rays from getting through the fabric.

The average t-shirt only blocks about 5 percent of UV rays. That means that, even with your skin covered, the sun may still be causing damage that can alter cells and lead to skin cancer.

UV-blocking clothing can keep up to 98 percent of the sun's rays from penetrating the fabric and reaching your skin underneath.

There are options for all weather types and mountain activities. Choosing the appropriate clothing for your high-altitude adventure offers peace of mind, even when sun exposure is greater.


Wearing sunscreen can't be emphasized enough. It's one of the best ways to protect your skin from UVA and UVB rays. Remember that sun exposure on mountain tops is higher, even during cloudy conditions.

Choose a product that is at least SPF 30 and make sure you apply it often. Once is not enough. Slather on additional sunscreen every 90 minutes. You should also reapply if your skin gets wet.

Look for a broad-spectrum sunscreen, which protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Those that contain zinc oxide or titanium oxide (or both) are the best choices.

Protective Accessories

You've already read about wearing UV-blocking clothing. But there are some other items you should add to your outfit to stay sun safe.

A hat is vital as it casts shade on your face and neck, helping block some of the sun's rays. Choose one with a broad rim to get the most protection.

Sunglasses protect your eyes and eyelids, which is important since these are areas you can't apply sunscreen to. Look for sunglasses that wrap around your face so they cover as much of your eye area as possible.

SPF Lip Balm

You probably aren't putting sunscreen on your lips. But the skin here needs protection too. For that reason, you should always carry a lip balm that contains SPF when you're in the mountains.

Like sunscreen, it blocks UV rays and prevents sunburn and cellular damage on and near your lips. Also, like sunscreen, it needs to be reapplied often for maximum protection.


You can bring a certain amount of shade with you. Your broad-brimmed hat is a good place to start.

You should also seek shade when possible. This is perhaps one of the most important mountaineering safety tips to remember.

Taking time out of the sun whenever possible reduces your exposure to the sun's rays. That's true for both hot weather hiking and cold weather skiing or snowboarding.

If possible, choose a shady trail so that you aren't out in the sun the entire time you're on the mountain. A break in the shade gives you a chance to reapply sunscreen, lip balm, and drink water so you stay hydrated.

A Word About the UV Index

One of the best tools you have for determining if it's safe to be in the sun is the UV index. The index measures the strength of the sun's rays. The higher the reading, the more damaging the rays are at a given time and place.

Anytime you are in the mountains, you should check the UV index for the time of day and the location where you are. Generally, the sun's rays are more forgiving early in the morning and later in the day.

You can usually expect the UV index to be highest between 10 am and 4 pm. Keep in mind that the risk is for unprotected sun exposure. You can still enjoy time outdoors with a high UV index, provided you are protecting yourself.

If you don't have access to the UV index, you can do the shadow test. If your shadow is longer, you can assume the UV index is lower. If your shadow is shorter, your risk is higher so take appropriate precautions.

Other Tips for Staying Sun Safe

If you're in the mountains during the heat of the summer, be sure you are staying hydrated. Take water breaks often and always carry a bottle of water with you on hikes.

If you're enjoying the mountains during the winter, keep in mind that snow magnifies the effects of the sun's rays. In fact, it can reflect up to 80 percent of the rays back into your face.

For that reason, it's important to be extra diligent about sun safety if there's snow on the ground. At higher elevations, you may encounter patches of snow even during the summer, so keep this in mind year-round.

The Takeaway

Being outside in nature is good for the body and the mind, but you must also be mindful of the sun's rays. Staying sun safe is especially important in the mountains where your exposure is higher.

Wearing the right clothing and accessories and carrying plenty of sunscreen are simple steps you can take to get the most out of your mountain adventures, while also keeping yourself safe.

Ready to add the right clothing to your mountain essentials cache? Check out our full range of outdoor activewear and you'll be ready for the hiking trail or ski slopes in no time. 

January 13, 2023 — Gabriella Lowell